David Valencia

Chef
Palm Beach, FL

Here’s a story: a seventeen year old boy gets a gig cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner for an upstate hunting club of around 40 hunters. The boy has little culinary experience and no clue how to cook venison.  So the night before his first day, he googles a bunch of recipes and the next morning he’s in the kitchen, after it. The hunters LOVE his food and the boy cooks for them three meals a day throughout the season.  The boy goes on to work at MoMa’s The Modern, Alaine Ducasse’s Adour, The Plaza’s Oak Room, Catch with Top Chef winner Hung Huynh, and eventually helps to open several high-profile restaurants, such as Daniel Stern’s R2L in Philadelphia and Catch in Miami. This is David’s story.

I say David had little experience prior to the hunting club gig, but really, cooking was in his blood. He came to the United States from Colombia when he was ten years old. But back in Colombia, his mother had a big family – ten brother and sisters – and he remembers huge family parties that typically involved killing a pig, butchering and preparing the animal with his grandma, then the whole family would feast all night.  To him, helping to cook an animal, start to finish, was normal. This appreciation for where food comes from and how it is prepared – David carries it with him. He also carries with him lessons he learned from prior bosses. Gabriel Kreuther, former Chef at The Modern, taught him that when you’re preparing a sample dish for a restaurant interview, you have to push yourself beyond your normal boundaries. That’s why when asked to prepare two dishes for his interview with Meat Market in Miami, David blew them away with a seven-course tasting menu. Chef Daniel Stern taught David that there should be no distinction between front of house and back of house (FOH and BOH, in restaurant lingo) – there is just one house, and the clients are not customers, they are guests.

Now David is Chef de Cuisine at Meat Market in Palm Beach, the menu of which he helped to build. He is proud of the food he serves (such as the cauliflower dish that is insanely popular and he has promised to give me an adaptation of the recipe!) and the fact that people enjoy working with him because he treats them well.  I may be biased because I’ve known him for a long time, but he is a Chef whose heart is bigger than his voracious appetite. And I was thrilled that he made time for the B2S questionnaire… Hablamos!

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Coffee or tea? I think that one’s obvious. Coffee. But not just coffee – cafe con leche. The way I do it personally, and I think all Colombians like it like this: 3/4 cup milk, 1/4 cup sugar and a little coffee. I like it sweet. Or sometimes I have cafe Cubano, which is a double espresso shot with milk and a lot sugar.

Beer or wine? Beer. When I go out to dinner, I’ll get a nice glass of red, like if I order a steak. I’m a big meat guy. Any other time, I like the taste of beer. I don’t prefer a specific beer, but I don’t like wheat beers. I’m starting to like a few local breweries too, like Ommegang. It’s amazing.

Describe your typical breakfast. In Colombia, there’s something call a “calentado,” which means re-heated. It’s basically taking your leftover meat, some eggs, bacon, tomatoes, peppers, onions, hot sauce, and cooking it all together. Rebecca, my girl, after five years she knows me well and she knows that’s what I like. We make that for breakfast, and sometimes we’ll have it with hot chocolate.

What is your earliest food-related memory? It has to be when I was five years old at one of those big family parties. My dad and my uncles killed a pig right in front of me. Then I helped my grandma make blood sausage. I remember she had blood on her cheek and she rubbed it on my cheek too. Every time I’m cooking something an image of that flashes in my head. It was an all-night party and we were grilling meats the entire time.

Describe your ideal sandwich. I have two. For the first, there’s a place down here [in Palm Beach] called TooJays. It’s South Florida’s version of a NY-style deli. They have a reuben – the most amazing thing you’ve ever had, every bite is perfect. It reminds me of New York. I miss a lot of things about New York, and I don’t miss a lot of things about it. But one thing I miss is being able to get any type of food at any time. If I’m making my own sandwich, I put a lot of shit in my stuff (laughs). I use wheat or white bread, no preference, then smoked turkey, smoked ham, some lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon, avocado, spicy mustard, hot sauce … my favorite is Valentina – that’s like my ketchup! Then I toss in some pepperjack and maybe some jalapeños. (B2S: ehrmigosh.)

Where would you travel to eat? There are a few places I’d like to go. I definitely want to go to Spain, and nowhere in particular, just all around. I’ve read a lot of cookbooks and I interpret a lot of things. Spanish cooking is a huge influence on me. The next place would be east Asia – Chinese, Vietnamese, that’s my second go-to, in terms of how I cook. I used to go to Asian places all the time. I learned a lot of cooking tricks that some Asian people have that you’ll never know unless someone shows you. For example, a sauce called shiro dashi. Dashi is a stock made from kombu and dried bonito flakes. Shiro dashi is infused with all types of mushrooms, then reduced. You can literally put a couple of drops of shiro dashi in a dish and the difference is unbelievable. What it does is it gives it the umami. In my cooking, I use a lot of shiro dashi and it’s definitely helped everything I do. And Mexico… all the flavors and the peppers and the spices. I’d love to go there.

Name 5 people you would like to invite to a dinner party. This one’s tricky because there are a lot.

1) Gabrielle Kreuther (former Chef at The Modern). Even now, looking at the menus I’ve done after The Modern, the influence that I got from him is all over. He’s a master and I’ve always looked up to that guy. I’d love to be able to cook for him. Everything I learned when I was a young punk was from him. He took it upon himself to take me under his wing.

2) Alain Ducasse (restauranteur, Benoit, The Dorchester, Plaza Athénée, etc.) At one point, he had the most Michelin stars in the world. He is the cooking god. I cooked at Adour for over a year and when he came into the kitchen he would always show you how to do things. He never even went to school, he started cooking at 9 years old – it’s just who he is. I have a lot of French techniques and ingredients in my cooking.

3) Anthony Bourdain, for many reasons. One of the reasons that I wanted to cook for a living is that when I moved down to New York City to start working, I looked up chef books and the first thing I read was Kitchen Confidential. Have you read it? (B2S: Not yet!). It’s like us talking now – just old friends catching up and he’s telling you his stories. He’s just a cool laid back guy that tells it like it is.

4) Danny Meyer (restauranteur and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group). There are a lot of reasons. One is that he’s owned so many different restaurants: The Modern, Eleven Madison Park, Shake Shack…  just thinking about all of the things this guys own doesn’t make sense. He owns a burger shack? Then across the street a three-star restaurant? He is the definition of hospitality. He is all about the employees and making people happy.

5) Alice Waters (Chef/owner, Chez Panisse). She’s the mom of all cooks. Alice has always been about local agriculture and has been such a big influence on everyone. We all have a part of what she started in us. Her ideas makes you a better cook. I try to use local providers as much as possible. Now she’s involved with school lunches too… she’s incredible.

What are you in the mood to eat right now? The first thing that came to my mind when you said that is the special soup of the day I made at work the other day – it was a Korean hot pot. It’s marinated, grilled short rib, then you throw some hoisin sauce, soy sauce, soba noodles into a short rib stock. Then some soybean, cilantro, sliced carrot, and topped with gochujang. It’s so spicy and hot that your nose starts running.  I don’t have hot pots as often as I did in New York, but my favorite spot there was Udon West on St. Marks. They have a bunch of different hot pots.

David in the kitchen
David in the kitchen: Meat Market Palm Beach
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chicken roulade: Meat Market Palm Beach
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cheese plate: Meat Market Palm Beach
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